Rabid Grannies [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Vinegar Syndrome
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (13th November 2023).
The Film

It is the shared birthday of sweet old aunts Elizabeth (Dany Daven) and Victoria Remington (Anne-Marie Fox) who are, sadly, not long for this world. Eager to get into their aunts' good graces are a pack of avaricious relatives including child-hating Catholic schoolteacher Father Percival (Robert Du Bois), war profiteer Harvey (Le Mans' Jacques Mayar), embittered spinster Bertha (Florine Elslande), wastrel playboy Roger (Michel Lombet), aristocratic Helen (Catherine Aymerie), her blue collar husband John (Elie Lison) and obnoxious children Suzie (Caroline Braeckman) and Gilbert (Richard Cotica), gluttonous factory owner Fred (La Femme Nikita's Guy Van Riet) and his much younger stripper second wife Jessica (Françoise Lamoureux), and caustic lesbian magazine editor Erika (Bobette Jouret) and her new "collaborator" Rachel (Françoise Moens). Disinherited because of the damage his involvement with a Satanic cult has done to the Remington family name, black sheep Christopher had the good graces not to show up uninvited but he has sent along a special gift that transforms the old biddies into demonic hags who set about chomping their way down their already rotten family tree. It's over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house… where they "love their grandchildren… well done!"

A low budget Belgian independent production, Rabid Grannies benefits from authentic stately locations – imagine the same concept in suburban America – and over-the-top grue that is more comical than disturbing; however, what we have been able to glean about Belgian cinema is that the horror genre was often derided by the critics and the independently-financed efforts were usually as much passion projects as works of direct provocation to the elitist government funding bodies. Despite some of the violence inflicted upon children in the film and much flinging of limbs and guts about an eleventh-century castle, the film really cannot live up to audience expectations in terms of transgression or irreverence for the scenario. The first act skewers the hypocrisy of not only the upper class characters but also organized religion, advertising, and industry. While this seems to prepare the audience to relish the grisly fates of all involved as a bunch of chickens running around with their heads already cut off; the film's sketchy characterization does surprisingly allow for some character arcs as some characters show how rotten they really are while coming across as still human and while others recover a shred of decency, and the lesbian prostitute has more balls than any of the men. The film remains an entertaining romp, but the look and feel really is more sub-Eurocine than Troma with its castle locations, stilted dubbing (of already stilted phonetic English performances), and handsome if functional photography. Despite the film's wide sales via Troma, director Emmanuel Kervyn did not follow it up with another film – at least not one with any international presence – but he did briefly appear onscreen as the quickly killed-off stand-in for Kickboxer's Jean-Claude Van Damme in Kickboxer 2: The Road Back. Producer Johan Vandewoestijne, on the other hand, turned out to be a major force in Belgium's genre output as covered elsewhere on this disc.


Released directly to video by Media Home Entertainment, Rabid Grannies was subject to cuts for an R-rating in spite of other Troma unrated releases – presumably Media requested only an R-rated version – and that cut version prevailed on home video when Troma reissued it on tape in 1998 and DVD in 2000 which included the gore snippets as extras (even though The Toxic Avenger was made available unrated as soon as the rights reverted to Troma). Subsequent overseas DVD releases from Germany and the Netherlands sported cuts that restored the gore but lost some dialogue, and one cut running approximately seventy-five minutes (shorter than the eighty-eight minute US release) was apparently Kervyn's director's cut.

Troma's own Blu-ray release in 2015 was a shocking release from a company that already had a shaky track record. It featured two versions of Vandewoestijne's producer's cut (68:27) – with the only difference being an extended black screen at the start – from 2007 which was reframed at 2.35:1 from the original 1.66:1 framing, cutting off the tops of heads and the bottom of distended demon jaws, featured new color correction that cast everything in sickly yellow making the actors look sallow and diluting the blue gel moonlight, and remixed the audio in stereo. This SD PAL master was upscaled to 1080i60 for Troma's Blu-ray and it was painful on the eyes. This cut removed much of the opening set-up introductions to the characters, moving up the demonic transformation from thirty-six minutes to sixteen minutes into the film. The gore was restored in so-so quality while those who actually liked the early expository and character sequences had to turn to the included DVD which was a direct port of the 2000 edition.

Vinegar Syndrome's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 widescreen Blu-ray comes from the original 35mm blow-up interpositive (presumably the 16mm original camera negative is long gone) which is thankfully the longest version at 95:45 which appears to be the version that played theatrically once in the United Kingdom as part of Scala Cinema's 1990 SplatterFest (the subsequent U.K. VHS releases were derived from Troma's R-rated NTSC video master). The brighter scenes have always looked good, but the high definition image restores a sense of texture to the authentic locations, sometimes less-than-perfect complexions, as well as some of the finer details of the make-up effects and prosthetics that were lost in NTSC video haze. The darker scenes still look a little murky in the deepest blacks, but the blue gel lighting looks more considered as do some of the gobo shadows while the little girl's encounter with her possessed auntie in the woman's childhood nursery now has a dreamy quality rather than looking merely smokey. The rough edges of the production and post-production are still evident with some instances of jitter and horizontal scratches on the negative at splice points that have transferred over to the interpositive as black marks. The R-rated cut (88:35) is also included from Troma's SD master, and a quick comparison reveals some consideration into the compositions as seen in the 1.66:1 version.


The feature presentation includes an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track, and the track is very clean, revealing some uneven mixing in the post-dubbed dialogue while the effects and the synth score fare better (the cheapness of the synth score's imitating strings and harpsichord fits with working class husband John's comment on the "phony nobility" of the family). The film was shot in phoenetic English by French-speaking Belgians and unprofessionally post-dubbed by British actors in Antwerp who had to sync their readings to the stilted line readings (producer Vandewoestijne describes the slow delivery of English speech as a characteristic of English-speakers in the Wallonia region of Belgium). The film was presumably dubbed in French for French-speaking audiences in Belgium since it would also have to be dubbed for French sales, but the film appears to have played to Flemish audiences in English with Dutch subtitles. Optional English SDH subtitles are included.

The R-rated version features English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio and no subtitles.


The long version is accompanied by a new audio commentary by The Hysteria Continues who liken the film's gruesomely comic approach more to the likes of Braindead than The Evil Dead, but also note some similarities with another Belgian genre film: the Italian co-produced The Devil's Nightmare in which stranded travelers who embody the Seven Deadly Sins shelter in a castle have their souls claimed by a succubus. They also discuss the film's video history in the U.S. and the sole theatrical screening in the U.K. (and how the exaggerated British dubbing played with fans of the long-running show Eurotrash). They also discuss the incongruous two halves of the film and admit to warming to the earlier half of the film while wondering why Troma cut the film for an R-rating.

Presumably the sole reason for including the R-rated SD video master is for the audio commentary by director Emmanuel Kervyn recorded at the time of the DVD release. He discusses how the project was greenlighted and his more serious concept for the film. Of the cast, he reveals that Jouret was his drama teacher, and that the actress who played the ill-fated maid (Patricia Davia) would end up working as his first assistant director after the first week of shooting while du Bois served as his second assistant. He also discusses the location shooting with authentically antique set décor and the creative liberties taken by the effects artists which partially motivated the move towards a more comedic tone since he liked the demon masks but felt that they were not scary. He also reveals his reasons for shooting the film in English, the difficulties of translating the script and interpreting on the set when he wanted to change dialogue between takes, finding English-speaking actors in Belgium (especially ones that would work cheap), and the dubbing of most of the cast (his feelings about the dialogue during the set-up probably motivated the heavy pruning of this section in the director's cut).

"Shit Happens" (12:09) is an interview with producer Vandewoestijne who still thinks the film is fifty minutes too long, his disagreements with Kervyn over the mood and tone, and the difficulty of casting and shooting the film in English.

"What Can I Do With This?!" (14:29) is an interview with editor Philippe Ravoet who only had some assisting and additional editing work under his belt at the time and took the challenge to edit the film in four short weeks, recalling that dialogue scenes had no sound while others had either badly-recorded sound or English spoken with accents so thick it was unintelligible. He also recalls that he and Kervyn would voice the actors during the editing in order to find the rhythm of the cutting.

"Pretty Violent Stuff" (7:31) is a new interview with Troma president Lloyd Kaufman who recalls that the filmmakers "wanted to make a Troma movie" but no one wanted it in the end so Troma took it on. He recalls sparse theatrical play and the difficulty in securing screenings despite the "cartoon violence" while noting that mainstream tastes have changed since, the cuts made to violence for an R-rating, and his opinion on how the MPAA "destroyed" their movies. He also briefly notes his interactions with Kervyn and subsequent productions with Vandewoestijne. He is also of the opinion that the film would have been better shot in its "native language" and subtitled rather than dubbed, finding ways in the short time to promote other Troma product.

More interesting is "Forgotten Scares: An In-Depth Look at Flemish Horror Cinema" (99:16), a documentary from 2016 spurred by popular press coverage of the release of the 2014 Belgian horror film Cub that pronounced it to be the "first Flemish horror film" even though the makers grew up on earlier examples, and genre regulars like Vandewoestijne and Harry Kümel note that disdain with which Belgian critics hold the horror genre and their tendency to sweep examples under the rug not so long after their release. Coverage starts pretty much with Kümel and his independently-financed/American tax shelter-funded Daughters of Darkness which made waves and lead to his ability to mount the more ambitious Malpertuis which felt was ruined by the original editor's overriding choices despite it selling well abroad (Kümel did his own cut years later but it only exists dubbed in Dutch without the original voices of the English-speaking cast members). Discussion moves towards more obscure titles like The Pencil Murders – with Guy Lee Thys noting that it was hard to classify and only in later years did he hear it referred to as a giallo by a British critic – and The Antwerp Killer described by filmmaker/programmer Jan Verheyen as a "prank" of a film by the mysterious Luc Veldeman who managed to convince investors and participants that the film was more mainstream than the resulting home-movie-looking concoction while composer Eric Feremans recalls Veldeman coming to him in search of existing recordings he could use to score the film and later asking him to take a brief role in the film as a police officer (the reason that a Korean child is in the shot with him was because he did not have anyone at the time to look after his recently-adopted daughter so he made up a line about finding a lost child) before discovering that the final film uses little of his music and instead uses cues from John Carpenter's score for Halloween II lifted directly from the film. Rob Van Eyck is on hand to discuss his succès de scandale The Afterman and its later post-9/11 follow-up. Rabid Grannies producer Vandewoestijne discusses that film along with his own subsequent efforts as producer and director including Lucker the Necrophagous which was a direct response to being refused state funding for another project and attained a wide cult following partially through the six-hundred signed cassettes ordered by Cult Epics' Nico B. as well as his subsequent Troma productions Maniac Nurses Find Ecstasy shot in Hungary and pitched to Troma as featuring "naked girls and whips," State of Mind with Paul Naschy and Fred Williamson, and Parts of the Family, the editing and reshooting of which ended his production relationship with Troma. The latter half of the program covers a mix of direct-to-video weirdness and more mainstream efforts like Verheyen's Alias that softened the fantastic elements, as well as the widely-exported folk horror TV movie Left Bank.

"Rabid Grannies: The Story Behind the Film" (36:24) is a documentary dating back a few years from producer Vandewoestijne decision to create a producer's cut with the aforementioned color correction, reframing, and stereo sound and is an extended interview with him that features a great deal of behind the scenes video shot on the set. He recalls meeting Kervyn in 1987 at distributor VDS while he was preparing a martial arts film in which he was to star with Vandewoestijne coming on to produce it. When VDS had financial trouble, Vandewoestijne sought French financing and suggested a horror film whereupon Kervyn produced a two-hundred-and-fifty-page script titled "The Long Night" which was pruned down by a hundred pages and then further in production, the expository first half of Rabid Grannies still being a point of contention between Kervyn and Vandewoestijne explaining his cutting of that chunk for his producer's cut. In addition to discussing the casting of English-speaking actors, he also recalls going to France to find an effects crew and reveals that Benoît Lestang was one of the artists under consideration Lestang later did mainstream work like Brotherhood of the Wolf although at this time he would only have had films like Living Dead Girl, Ogroff, and Revenge of the Living Dead Girls on his resume). He also recalls the difficulties with the local brewery owners of the castle who tried to get more money out of them for continued access despite contracts, getting the police and assessors involved over alleged damage, as well as Troma contacting him through a piece he had printed in the Hollywood Reporter, and Troma's promotion as world sales agent at Cannes. Presumably Troma did not include this documentary on their Blu-ray release because they would need to have paid to subtitle it.

The remainder of the extras are ported from the Troma edition including a shorter interview with producer Johan Vandewoestijne (3:15), the introduction by Troma president Lloyd Kaufman (1:45), a reel of outtakes (8:35), and the U.S. video trailer (2:08).


The disc is housed with a reversible cover while the first six thousand copies ordered directly from Vinegar Syndrome (and select indie retailers) include a special limited edition double-sided lenticular slipcover designed by Richard Hilliard.


It's over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house where Rabid Grannies "love their grandchildren... well done!"


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